Everybody has heard about the rioting that swept across the British landscape. The reactions have been varying. Many have wholeheartedly condemned the rioters, while others have been less willing to denounce the actions of the rioters. This has led to the fragmentations of society being more obvious now buildings have been destroyed by fire and vast amounts of stock have been stolen.
What are the reasons for this upsurge in people power?
In my opinion, it had little to do with Mark Duggan being shot by police in Tottenham on 4th August 2011 – that in itself was another tragedy.
The riots appear to have been about social recognition.
People feel as if they have been made mutes. They want to be heard. They react with actions that will make them noticed: they riot.
One person cannot cause a riot. However, rioting is easy if there is public acknowledgement that the actions taken are having an affect against the authority, the property or the people the rioters are angry with. The rioters gain power from their (albeit temporary) status as instigators of unrest. This gives them a new social identity and - in a warped reality - they are seen as providing a service to the disenfranchised masses.
Moving from a status of being disapproved in every aspect of their lives to a position of power is about gaining a sense of satisfaction and social recognition. So many people exist in such a state of constant desperation that even a temporary change seems full of merit. It quickly becomes a proposition that cannot be denied. The opportunity must be taken. This may be the mindset of the average rioter.
I cannot imagine the rioters crying ‘Carpe Diem!’ as they ransacked the sports, clothing, phone shops and other businesses – they did, after all, leave a bookshop untouched in their escapades in London.
The social recognition may be fleeting and it may also turn from a false positive to a true negative but at the time, in some social groups, rioting was the only way to obtain social approval and recognition.
What happens next?
Will everything go back to the way it was? I don’t think so.
Social approval is so important that people do desperate things to be accepted. In China, for example, there is more social recognition for women who are wives and mothers than for those women who have a good education. Smart women in China are seen as non-standard and they don’t fit into the bigger picture.
In Britain, the message to so many people is, “You don’t fit, so just be quiet.” Riots are not the best way to voice disagreement, but when the jackboot is always on your throat, it can become the only way to seize your day as you pursue your common purpose to be recognised.
That still does not make it right.